Futures Studies, Foresight, or Futurology is the practice and art of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures. Futures studies (colloquially called "Futures" by many of the field's practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue, what is likely to change, and what is novel. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends. Futures is an interdisciplinary field, studying yesterday's and today's changes, and aggregating and analyzing both lay and professional strategies, bets and opinions with respect to tomorrow. It includes analyzing the sources, patterns, and causes of change and stability in the attempt to develop foresight and to map possible futures. Around the world the field is variously referred to as futures studies, strategic foresight, futurology, futuristics, futures thinking, futuring, futuribles (in France, the latter is also the name of the important 20th century foresight journal published only in French), and prospectiva (in Spain and Latin America). Futures studies (and one of its subdisciplines, strategic foresight) are the academic field's most commonly used terms in the English-speaking world.

Foresight may be the oldest term for the field. In a 1932 BBC broadcast the visionary author H.G. Wells called for the establishment of "Departments and Professors of Foresight," presaging the development of modern academic futures studies by approximately 40 years. Futurology is a term common in encyclopedias, though it used almost exclusively by nonpractitioners today, at least in the English-speaking world. Futurology is defined as the "study of the future." The term was coined by German professor Ossip K. Flechtheim in the mid-1940s, who proposed it as a new branch of knowledge that would include a new science of probability. This term may have fallen from favor in recent decades because modern practitioners stress the importance of alternative and plural futures, rather than one monolithic future, and the limitations of prediction and probability, versus the creation of possible and preferable futures.

Two factors usually distinguish futures studies from the research conducted by other disciplines (although all disciplines overlap, to differing degrees). First, futures studies often examines not only possible but also probable, preferable, and "wild card" futures. Second, futures studies typically attempts to gain a holistic or systemic view based on insights from a range of different disciplines.

Futures studies does not generally include the work of economists who forecast movements of interest rates over the next business cycle, or of managers or investors with short-term time horizons. Most strategic planning, which develops operational plans for preferred futures with time horizons of one to three years, is also not considered futures. But plans and strategies with longer time horizons that specifically attempt to anticipate and be robust to possible future events, are part of a major subdiscipline of futures studies called strategic foresight.

The futures field also excludes those who make future predictions through professed supernatural means. At the same time, it does seek to understand the models such groups use and the interpretations they give to these models.

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This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Future Trends. The Official Guide to Future Trends is Frank Feather.

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